- According to new research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, those who know how to plan ahead but also live in the moment are better able to stay positive whenever the going gets rough.
- When you have a negative thought, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing can help calm you down and bring you back to the present moment.
As a runner, you know the importance of having a plan. Once you sign up for a race, it’s all about spending the upcoming months preparing for it—whether your goal is to set a 5K PR or to cross the finish line of your first marathon. But once race day comes along and you’re in the midst of your miles, it’s all about being present in the moment and tuning out any external noise or pressure.
The same concept applies for life outside of running. And as it turns out, those who know how to plan ahead but also live in the moment are better able to stay positive whenever the going gets rough, according to new research.
In the study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers looked at data from 223 participants—107 of them were between 18 and 36 years old and 116 of them were between 60 and 90 years old—self-reported over nine days. At the start, everyone completed a survey that asked about how often they practiced proactive coping, or “planning ahead to reduce the likelihood of future stress,” according to the study. Next, they were asked to keep track of daily stressors (like arguments, work- and home-related stressors, etc.), how those stressors affected their mood, and how often they experienced changes in their ability to stay mindful, or in the moment.
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The findings? Those who used proactive coping methods (like visualizing dreams and then trying to achieve them) and mindfulness techniques each day were less likely to be negatively influenced by the stressors in their lives. Interestingly, though, when participants only engaged in proactive coping—and not mindfulness—they still reported feeling stressed.
According to study author Shevaun Neupert, Ph.D., a psychology professor at North Carolina State University, it’s the combination of proactive coping and mindfulness that helps reduce stress and anxiety.
“Proactive coping works to reduce the likelihood of experiencing future stressors—that means people who do more proactive coping tend to encounter fewer stressful experiences,” Neupert told Runner’s World. “Mindfulness brings non-judgmental awareness to the present. That means an awareness of what is happening or being felt right now without attempting to change it. It is accepting the here and now.”
In fact, tons of science backs this up. Research presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting found that people can start to see benefits from mindfulness after just one session. A 2010 meta-analysis in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found mindfulness meditation improved symptoms of anxiety and depression, and a 2014 meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine seemed to confirm these results.
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Wondering how to implement proactive coping and mindfulness into your everyday life? While Neupert acknowledges striking this balance takes some practice, it can definitely be done.
“It is likely that people can attempt to achieve this balance by doing their best to proactively cope and avoid future stressors to the best of their ability, but when daily stressors do crop up, being able to mindfully attend to the present is the best scenario,” she said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when you have a negative thought, “try to sit down, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.”